|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
A dark and brooding atmosphere overhangs this tale of murder and witchcraft in a future Scotland...
Combining elements of Gaelic mythology, cult belief systems and witchcraft, Outcast focuses on stories of the “Shi” and “Shape shifters”. With plenty of nudity and emphasis on "forbidden fruit", Outcast is at times suitably uncomfortable viewing, playing on traditional links between sexuality and the occult. As a feature debut by the McCarthy brothers, the low-budget mythical horror Outcast showcases plenty of new talent and suggests the beginning of a promising film career for this sibling union.
Set in Scotland and Ireland and based on the McCarthys' own council-estate experiences, Outcast creates an atmosphere of mystery and suspense from the outset in its jerky diagonal camera work, amplified bird flight and eerie opening music with blood-drenched credits. Dark lighting and unusual Edinburgh landscapes of tower blocks, graffiti, hanging bird corpses and a travellers' park help to set this mood.
A filthy and bearded James Nesbitt accepting "the proposal" to "use the powers to hurt and kill the boy" is our introduction to this cat-and-mouse chase. With a pagan-style tattoo painfully chipped into his back at the start, this isn't the Nesbitt we all know and could befriend. Hunting down a mother and son, Nesbitt as Cathal isn't the likeable charmer – instead slitting open an array of crows and creepily muttering: "You're close bitch – I smell you". Cathal will do anything to satisfy his own ends, however destructive: "I'll fucking kill them both – fuck your rules... then this beautiful skin becomes mine forever."
Cathal's prey, mother Mary (Kate Dickie), is a witch of sorts, desperately trying to protect her 15 year-old son, Fergal, who's the fruit of a forbidden union – the damned product of her past passion. Having been on the run since Fergal's birth, Mary decides "this is the end of the road" and tries to set up a normal life by moving to Edinburgh. As a spiritual figure, Mary is a dark character, waking in the night and cutting herself to paint the walls with her blood. To secure Fergal's safety, she imposes a strict set of rules: "Stay out of fights, stay away from girls." Her relationship with Fergal is somewhat sinister as she repeatedly hides in the darkness of his room, creepily - almost incestuously - strokes Fergal, and unnervingly whispers "the big man knows best" in his ear.
"Part love-story and modern cautionary fairytale, Outcast is fascinating viewing, despite a somewhat predictable twist."
Mulleted Fergal (Niall Bruton) looks like a traveller but is a teen trying to settle and "live like a normal kid". Meeting his scantily-clad and attractive Romanian teen neighbour, Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), proves too much of a temptation for Fergal. He starts to open up to her about his heritage and their attraction flourishes into romance: "[I'm] from people that are different to you... those that stay hidden in the shadows." Sick of nursing her drunken mother and mentally challenged brother, Petronella wants to start a new life too but Fergal’s fear of who he is holds him back: "What if I'm not a good man?”
A strangely sexual tribal battle of wills between Mary and Cathal is particularly memorable, as is a scene involving mirrored masturbation. Almost medieval-sounding speak is interspersed with hard-hitting Edinburgh-estate Scots to suggest Outcast is set in an unspecified future with divided people: "The deed is his to do – guide him in this." Use of mystical jargon like "divining and seeking" combined with unusual methodology suggests magical forces are at work - the blood of crows being used to find direction and distance.
Suspense is built-up throughout by making it virtually impossible to second-guess characters’ actions or intentions. Snapshots of sinister goings-on also help to create this uneasy atmosphere - talk of a "presence", a girl stalked to an alleyway, hints of a beast pursuing Fergal who may even be his father, flicker shots of this beast, Petronella’s friend disappearing and a cursed social worker.
Plot holes, a lack of back-story and occasional poorly developed characters make Outcast difficult to follow at times, but in many ways these weaknesses actually add to an increasingly unsettling atmosphere. Part love-story and modern cautionary fairytale, Outcast is fascinating viewing, despite a somewhat predictable twist. If there’s one thing to be learnt from Fergal’s story, it’s the dangers of suppressed desire and masculinity.
Director: Colm McCarthy
Writer: Colm McCarthy, Tom K. McCarthy
Running Time: 90 mins
Distributor: Vertigo Films
Starring: James Nesbitt, Kate Dickie, Niall Bruton, James Cosmo, Hanna Stanbridge, Josh Whitelaw
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Outcast goes on general release in the UK on December 10th